Author: RICK STONE
Sydney’s train commuters got a shock this week with successive days of cancelations and delays. NSW Transport Minister, Andrew Constance apologised, calling the train network “a mess” while demanding a report from the head of Sydney Trains and the Transport Secretary within the fortnight.
On the ground, police were on hand to control crowds as replacement buses were scrambled to ease the burden. Opposition Leader Luke Foley said the scenes at Town Hall Station were akin to that of a third world city.
I was on the trains extensively this week. One morning at Central Station our train was offloaded onto platform 23 and passengers were sent to join another train on platform 22 before being offloaded again and sent back to platform 23 for an eventual departure.
This hour-long annoyance was explained as ‘driver relief’, which can be translated from bureaucrat speech into ‘we don’t have enough drivers for our scheduled services’.
Disruptions to complex systems (like a train network) often result from relatively minor problems in multiple parts of the system. In this case two issues earlier in the week set the ball rolling; lightning strikes affected signalling services alongside an unanticipated shortage of drivers due to illness. These issues were compounded by a system still ironing out the kinks from a new timetable (implemented in November) and seasonal leave commitments.
One of these problems would normally bend but not break the system, however taken together their effects were exacerbated and the system reached a breaking point.
The Rail, Tram and Bus Union is blaming the new timetables, management is blaming a lack of available staff and lightning, but the reality is: eleven days into 2018 Sydney’s trains are broken.
Resilience is the ability of a system to withstand multiple minor problems and bounce back from a breakdown. While Sydney commuters will be watching closely as their trains kick back into gear, all organisations can learn from these events as well as how the system recovers.
Below are some questions to help you determine if your organisation could withstand the stresses of multiple simultaneous disruptions:
How much capacity does your organisation have to absorb new and abnormal operations (the ‘new timetable’ issue)?
How prepared are you for sudden loss of service or function (the signalling failure)?
What plans do you have in place for alternative ways to operate if things go wrong (can trains proceed more slowly when the signals are blacked out)?
How would you manage an unexpected staff shortage?
How exposed are you to loss of key personnel?
An important element of crisis management is communications. While working to fix the system, Sydney Trains needs to ensure their customers are aware of the delays and changes to services. Station staff and guards must become ‘brand ambassadors’ and keep passengers advised of what’s happening, particularly as station indicator boards are often wrong.
Your organisation should be able to answer these communications-based questions before, during and after crises:
How will you advise customers that your organisation is having issues?
How can your organisation make sure messages are effective and empathetic?
How can you keep stakeholders up to date with progress in solving the issue?
How can you manage customer expectations?
How will you ensure all staff are well briefed and able to adequately represent your organisation?
If your organisation doesn’t have the answers to some of these questions, get in touch with Tigertail to learn more about how we can help you build resilience against crisis.